As I patiently wait for the next Destiny expansion to launch next week, I found myself looking for a short game that I could complete in one or two sittings. This list from Kotaku was exactly what I needed and, after looking at a few, I landed on Valley. The premise of an archaeologist on the hunt for a powerful artifact turned into a surprisingly deep story, but the fast and fluid movement I saw in a few video clips is what really piqued my interest.
Valley may have its best mechanics in a half-realized state, but it’s definitely a good way to spend a few hours.
- TL;DR: Excellent movement, the ability to give or take life with the press of a button, and a wonderful soundtrack make Valley a fun adventure.
- Platform: PS4
- Time Played: 4:10
- What I Played: Completed the game, found 38 medallions
As I mentioned in my opening, the main character of Valley is an archaeologist on the hunt for an artifact of unimaginable power known as the Lifeseed. It’s unclear what time period the game takes place in, as you’ll find military installations from WWII that the nameless protagonist wonders at, or exactly where the game is located. More of the story unfolds as you play through WWII-style audio reels a la Bioshock and it becomes surprisingly deep. I was way more interested in the story by the game’s end than I thought I would be.
The true star of the show isn’t our main character, though. No, that distinction goes to the L.E.A.F. suit, an exoskeleton left behind by a military testing program. With the suit, Valley basically turns into a first-person Sonic the Hedgehog game as you can run at crazy speeds and jump incredibly high. Running downhill gives you an even larger speed boost which can propel you off ramped surfaces, sending you gliding through the air where you have a high degree of control for precision landings. The most fun you’ll have in Valley is during high agility segments where you can chain together sprinting, jumping, and soaring.
Valley packs one more main mechanic into the L.E.A.F. suit — the God Hand. Using the power of “amrita”, or life energy, you can point a hand at any dead plant or animal and breathe life into it. Trees will sprout leaves and animals will get up off the ground as if they were only taking a nap. You can also drain life from living things with similar ease. This life and death mechanic, while interesting, is sadly underutilized. Energy required to give life can be drained from other living things, but there is such a plentiful amount found by just moving around that you hardly ever have to use the “take life” action. You will use the “give life” action quite a bit, typically on barren trees instead of on a mixture of plant life. As far as I can tell, any animals you bring back to life are purely aesthetic. I would have loved to see a more in-depth system for energy use where you have to give and take life to and from things on the fly to solve complex puzzles. I do love the idea behind the God Hand, though.
The idea behind life energy comes up again when you die. In order to respawn, some of the life is drained from your surroundings in order to pay for your resurrection. “Life must be traded for life”,
the witch from season one of Game of Thrones the game says. If you die while the health of the valley is at zero, it’s game over. Again, this is an idea that sounds better on paper since it’s pretty tough to die in Valley. Over my roughly four hours of play, I probably died five or six times. There were more than enough trees scattered around for me to nurse the land back to 100% health within minutes of each death.
Valley also decides to throw some combat at you every now and again in the form of amrita swarms, creatures so drained of energy that they mindlessly attack you. In order to pacify them, you simply shoot life energy at them. There are three or four enemy types in the game, each of which can be dealt with by strafing to avoid their fire as you pump them full of energy. It may fit into the narrative of the game, but it feels out of place. Valley is at its best when you are moving and flowing, not when you have to slow down to aim.
In typical adventure game fashion, Valley has some goodies hidden away for you to discover. Suit upgrades like a double jump and grappling hook make movement even more enjoyable. Launching off a ramp after sprinting downhill into a grapple that sends you flying is a hell of a good time. Item-gated doors are replaced with acorn-gated doors. Yes, really. Acorns act as a key/currency system for certain doors in the game which typically house an energy storage upgrades behind them. There are also medallions scattered around the world that grant entry to an ancient pyramid found near the end of the game. I was only able to get through one of the few doors in the pyramid with my 38 medallions.
Despite some shortcomings and half-realized ideas, Valley is definitely a fun game. The pure speed and freedom of movement offered by the L.E.A.F. suit are things you don’t see often, plus everything certainly looks pretty when it’s whizzing by you at full sprint. Smaller details, like changing shadows when you give and take life from a tree and dust clouds when you land from a high jump, are nice to see, too.
One undeniable success of Valley is the soundtrack. I’ve always said that a game’s soundtrack is typically only recognizable when it’s on the very good or very bad end of the spectrum and Valley is 100% the former. Whether it’s the happy Disney-esque tones that play at high speed or the creeping horror of a dark cave, the audio designers at Blue Isle Studios deserve a pat on the back.
The world designers also deserve some recognition. Your HUD has a horizontal scrolling compass, but I hardly used it due to the excellent placement of signs within the game telling me that area X was this way or room #N was that way. Valley may be pretty linear, but the setting changes between the wilderness, caves, ruins, and outposts combined with the reliance on in-world direction over a pause menu map keep you engaged.
Valley has a handful of enjoyable mechanics that, despite feeling incomplete, make for a good game. Giving and taking life with a wave of your hand isn’t as powerful or important as it could be. The idea of taking life from your surrounding to respawn is smart but hollow due to the plentiful resources in the world. I still give Valley a thumbs up, though. I hope Blue Isle Studios can take the best parts of Valley — the excellent movement, the wonderful soundtrack, and the ideas of giving/taking life from your surroundings — to make an even better game in the future.